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By Anjum Altaf I am happy to engage in a debate with the Center for Global Development on US aid to Pakistan. However, for me the issue is not aid to Pakistan or aid in general but the analytical validity of CGD’s recent reports. I argued that CGD’s 2011 report was advocacy, not analysis and based on a reading of a summary of the 2012 report I concluded it seemed no different. CGD has responded to my criticism of the latter but has, in what I consider a handwaving style, ignored my central concern and resorted to diversionary arguments to mount a defense. Here, I aim to show why CGD’s case remains a weak one.
By Irfan Husain Over the years, billions of dollars in foreign aid have been poured into Pakistan’s social sector. Nevertheless, literacy remains stubbornly below 50 per cent, and life expectancy at birth is at 66 years, 164th lowest in the world. So why this abysmal and sustained failure by successive Pakistani governments and international donors in solving these perennial problems? After all, other similarly placed countries have made great strides in both critical areas. Sri Lanka, to name one, has long had a literacy rate of over 90 per cent, and life expectancy there is above 75. One reason is our prodigious birth rate: Pakistan’s population has grown around six times since Partition, climbing exponentially from around 32 million in 1947 to close to 190 million now.

By Anjum Altaf and Samia Altaf It is our claim that the debates on poverty and aid have gone off the rails. On poverty, it is too narrow, quibbling about a few percentage points above or below some historical number. On aid, it is too...

By Sakuntala Narasimhan The World Health Organisation (WHO) notes in a publication released earlier this month that a “huge amount of new financial commitment, worth over $40 billion,” has been pledged by a collective of global agencies, towards maternal and child health projects in developing countries. The strategies that these projects will focus on include “innovative approaches” like the use of mobile phones “to create awareness and promote health” so that individuals and communities can have the information they need to make decisions about their health. Although the publication mentions the need to “address structural barriers to health,” the assumption is that lack of information and knowledge is the limiting factor. This assumption shows a woeful ignorance of the socio-cultural complexities that make up the local matrices within which “development” work has to be undertaken, which is why in spite of the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been poured into developing countries as aid in the last five decades, there has been no commensurate improvement in the social sector parameters in terms of adequate food, shelter, access to healthcare and education.
By Anjum Altaf An intense discussion on foreign aid to Pakistan took place amongst a small group of individuals following the exchange on the subject between the Center for Global Development and The South Asian Idea (links to all the documents can be found at the end of this article). Here I wish to record the ideas presented in the discussion in order to refer to them at a later date. The almost universal acceptance of the extremely poor utilization of aid in Pakistan and its negative impacts on governance leave little need to repeat the evidence. This acceptance marks the starting point for the discussion under review and yields the two main topics that form the core of the debate: How can the utilization of aid be improved and how can the negative impacts of aid on governance be reversed?
Foreign aid is almost always in the news, at times more than others. All sorts of questions keep swirling in the air: questions about its nature, rationale, aims, effects, results, justification, symbolism, and even about its quantum. All through this heated debate the issue remains surrounded by a thick fog of obfuscation; many remain unclear of what exactly is being talked about. In this post, I intend to present a primer on foreign aid. Each of the opinions offered in the following sections can be contested; the aim is not to provide a definitive conclusion but to set the stage for an informed debate that employs common definitions and a shared point of departure.
By Samia Altaf and Anjum Altaf This op-ed appeared in Dawn, Karachi, on July 30, 2010. It was intended to initiate a discussion on the possible approaches to sector reform and is being reproduced here with permission of the authors to provide a forum for discussion and feedback. We must state at the outset that we have been wary of, if not actually opposed to, the prospect of further economic assistance to Pakistan because of the callous misuse and abuse of aid that has marked the past across all elected and non-elected regimes. We are convinced that such aid, driven by political imperatives and deliberately blind to the well recognized holes in the system, has been a disservice to the Pakistani people by destroying all incentives for self-reliance, good governance, and accountability to either the ultimate donors or recipients.
By Anjum Altaf The success of Slumdog Millionaire has made the slum an image familiar to a lot more people in both East and West. Is it possible to use that image to discover something new about South Asia? It was not the movie that triggered the idea itself but a chapter in a very old book that I happened to be reading. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, first published in 1961, is a classic described by the New York Times Book Review as “perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning… a work of literature.” It contains a fascinating chapter titled ‘Unslumming and Slumming’ that made me realize that while we have overused slums as a descriptive category we have underused it as an analytical one.

By Anjum Altaf As Chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden has been a strong advocate of increased developmental assistance for Pakistan. Therefore, if he becomes the Vice President in November, the prospects of a significant jump in the quantum of American aid...